The Challenge of Parenting Through Chronic Pain

Parenting is hard enough as it is. But add to that the debilitating experience of frequent migraines, and it’s nearly impossible.

“No! No! No! You do feel so much better, Mom! You don’t have a headache!” my two-year-old pleads.

I choose my words carefully, partially due to the fact that every word is an effort, but also because I want him to know this is my body, my pain. “I will feel so much better, but right now I have a headache. So, you get to spend the day with your dad,” the last part I try to make sound exciting — as exciting as I can sound with what feels like a hot branding iron stuck in my head.

“I love you,” I whisper as my husband scoots me off to our dark bedroom. I can hear my little guy bellowing for me as I stumble up the stairs. I know in ten minutes he will be giggling and talking about Mr. Toad and his “wild ride,” but even through the immense pain, I can feel the sadness and guilt warm in my chest.

I want to be present for my child, but today (along with countless other days), I’m not. I can’t even summon the tears to cry about it. My head hurts too much. This is not the mother I wanted to be. How do I explain to a two-year-old that I have migraines?

I’m a mom with migraines.

My migraines started ten years ago, happening only every now and then, but in the last couple of years they’ve gotten worse. Now I experience one almost daily. Of course, I’ve tried everything to stop them – a list as extensive as Cher and Dolly Parton’s wig collections combined – massage, acupuncture, yoga, diet changes, hot baths, cold baths, preventive medicine, Botox injections, and even sex with my husband. None of this has worked, but thanks to the Botox I look 10 years younger — while lying in bed with a migraine. 

The only cure I’ve found has been pregnancy. My husband and I only ever wanted one child, but he has graciously offered to help me get pregnant again. If getting knocked-up will rid me of this excruciating disorder, then maybe two (or twelve) kids might not be so bad. Still, I don’t plan on being pregnant for the next ten years, thus propelling my boobs to graze the floor (instead of just grazing my knees), so I’m forced to look for other options.

Fluctuations in my hormones are the main trigger. My period and ovulation require what could be days, or weeks, of heavy medicine use. If my meds don’t work I could be in bed for up to four days. Menstrual migraines are some of the hardest migraines to treat. For anyone who’s tried to get through the day with a migraine, then you know I’m talking about. For those who haven’t, it’s a little bit like asking a woman during the height her labor contractions to stop and make a pot roast.

Trying to be a good parent is hard enough. Trying to be a good parent with chronic migraines is harder still. Thank goodness my husband has a flexible schedule and is able to help. When he isn’t available, I dig into my back-up childcare options. I even have back-ups for my back-ups.

It’s a constant state of asking for help, just because I might get a migraine. There are times I’m afraid to be alone in the house with my little guy, because I might get a migraine. I can’t even begin to describe the pain and nausea of trying to be a parent during a full-blown episode, taking my son into the bathroom so I can throw-up.

This is not the type of parent I wanted to be.

I want nothing more than to be a good mother to my son. I want to do all those mundane daily tasks that moms do. I want to be there to tell my son that cheese crackers are not a food group. I want to be there to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with him for hours. Okay, maybe not hours.

But what I truly don’t want is to be spending all day in bed alone knowing I’m missing out on days of his childhood. The guilt monster emerges from under my bed (where all good monsters hide), and I find myself wading through shame each time I take an Imitrex, each day I’m in bed with a migraine. As my son grows, will he remember a fun, playful mom who loves him? Or a mom who lives in a dark room and can barely utter “hello?”

I haven’t given up hope that a treatment or a preventative medicine might help. Propelled by a desire to be there for my son, and to end the pain, I’m still seeking a solution. 

There are some days I feel like this is just going to be my life – working around the painful reality of my chronic condition. But, I’ve decided to take a piece of advice from my two-year-old. While in the grips of a particularly horrible migraine, my son gently put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, Mom. You’ll feel so much better.”

And I’m inclined to believe him. Because that’s the type of mother I want to be.

Parenting Wisdom From U.S. Presidents You Wish Were Running Right Now

Whether leading the nation or their families, U.S. Presidents, through both strengths and weakness, can teach a few lessons about being a good parent.

Do parenting and patriotism mix?

They do if you’re the founding or presiding fathers of our country, from George Washington right up to our current first dad, President Obama!

With their double role as leaders of our country and leaders of their family, the U.S. Presidents bring a unique perspective to parenting and family matters. But the same traits that helped them guide the nation – leadership, tenacity, loyalty, diligence – were likely both a help and a hindrance when it came to raising their children.

While most parents wrestle with the work-family conflict, the complexity of the presidency takes this struggle to a whole new level. While some first dads approached their dual role of leader/father with equal levels of devotion, others let their presidential concerns consume them, making them absentee fathers in the process.

As author Joshua Kendall points out in his new book First Dads: Parenting and Politics from George Washington to Barack Obama, most presidents have consistently put work over family. “After all, a single-minded focus on one’s career is the most direct path to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” writes Kendall, whose book bridges the connection between the presidents’ parenting styles and their effectiveness in the Oval Office. 

So, let’s break it down. What parenting lessons can we learn from our forefathers?

Lesson #1

Childhood is fleeting, so let kids be kids and cherish the time you have together.

Abraham Lincoln

(16th President, 4 sons)

Long before the phrase “free-range parenting” described a parenting style, Abraham Lincoln embodied this let-kids-be-kids approach to child-rearing. As a permissive parent, Lincoln spoiled his kids, often allowing them free reign of the White House. Two of the boys, Tad and Willie, often took full advantage of Lincoln’s leniency.

In White House Kids: The Perks, Pleasures, Problems, and Pratfalls of the Presidents’ Children, author Joe Rhatigan reveals the prankster side of Lincoln’s boys. One time, Tad and Willie pulled all the bell cords in the White House, simultaneously summoning the servants, Cabinet members and secretaries and creating a state-of-the-union frenzy in the process. Another time, the boys created a huge mess with paint supplies brought in by an artist commissioned to paint a presidential portrait. No one recalls any resulting punishment from the boys’ misdeeds.

Not much of a disciplinarian, Lincoln allowed Tad to interrupt important meetings and even canceled war counsels with generals when Tad wanted to go for a carriage ride.

“It is my pleasure that my children are free, happy, and unrestricted by parental tyranny,” explained Lincoln.

With heavy political matters weighing on Lincoln’s mind, playing with his children provided him with a great sense of relaxation, whether they were roughhousing on the floor or playing catch outside.

Since firstborn Robert would be the only Lincoln child to live to adulthood, the president’s enjoy-your-kids-while-you-can philosophy served him well.

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Rutherford B. Hayes

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Lesson #2

Both men and women can be nurturing, hands-on parents.

Rutherford B. Hayes

(19th President, 7 sons, 1 daughter)

With a large family to fill the White House, Rutherford B. Hayes brought a lively, informal vibe to his tenure as commander-in-chief. And, unlike most men of his time, Rutherford B. Hayes took a very hands-on role caring for his eight children (three of whom died in infancy).

Hayes softer side likely stems from his fatherless childhood. After the sudden death of his 35-year-old father just months before the future president was born, Hayes’ mother and older sister raised him in a warm and loving environment. This nurtured upbringing spilled over into Hayes’ adulthood, as he led the nation—and his family—in a calm, comforting manner. Whether caring for wounded soldiers fresh off the battlefield or nursing his sick children back to health, Hayes’ knew how to calm and comfort others.

Never one to delegate his fatherly duties, Hayes made being there for his kids a welcome priority. As proof of his hands-on approach, Kendall cites how Hayes chaperoned his young son’s birthday party and took a week off to help his older son settle in as a college freshman.

In a letter to his son, Webb, he passed on this fatherly advice, “Do not let your bachelor ways crystallize so that you can’t soften them when you come to have a wife and a family of your own.”

Our 19th president, a softie. Who knew?

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Teddy Roosevelt

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Lesson #3:

No matter how busy you are, carve out time to play with your kids.

Theodore Roosevelt

(26th President, 4 sons, 2 daughters)

An active, adventurous, rowdy First Dad, Teddy Roosevelt approached fatherhood the way he approached politics—with great gusto. Playful and powerful, Roosevelt bonded with his six kids through games, sports, roughhousing, pillow fights, taking care of their menagerie of pets, playing tag in the attic, telling ghost stories and even snuggling in bed together many mornings.

“I love all these children and have great fun with them, and I am touched by the way in which they feel that I am their special friend, champion, and companion,” Roosevelt said.

Fun-loving Roosevelt brought a youthful energy to the White House, encouraging imaginative play and teaching his sons how to shoot, box, swim row, sail, and ride, according to Kendall. He encouraged his kids, both boys and girls, to grow up tough, “manly,” and active. Leading by example, rugged Roosevelt went hunting, fishing, and horseback riding.

No matter how busy his schedule got, Roosevelt made time for his kids, starting with the family’s morning ritual of sharing breakfast together. And in the summer of 1905, although busy preparing for peace talks and consulting experts about building the Panama Canal, Roosevelt still found time for the family camping trip he took every year.

After winning the 1904 election, he wrote to his 15-year-old son, Kermit, “No matter how things came out, the really important thing was the lovely life with Mother and you children, and that compared to this home life everything else was of very small importance from the standpoint of happiness.”

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Lydon Johnson

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Lesson #4:

Find teachable moments to share with your kids.

Lyndon B. Johnson

(36th President, 2 daughters)

Nestled in among the playful, family-focused first dads, you’ll find Lyndon B. Johnson, a president so preoccupied with the pressing duties of his office that he didn’t spend a lot of quality time with his two daughters, Lynda and Luci.

But what Johnson lacked in attentiveness, he made up for in his ability to share many teachable moments with his patient, understanding girls (both teens when he became President).

“I can show you a note from my father on my seventeenth birthday—it’s actually the only handwritten letter I have from him,” said Luci in an interview with Texas Monthly, “A history teacher always, he timed it at 12:10 p.m. At four o’clock that afternoon he signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Can you imagine a better birthday present for me, something that changed all of our lives? What a thrill.”

While most teen girls might have felt slighted, Luci understood the important work her father was charged with. In fact, Johnson often imparted life lessons to his daughters through the political issues at hand, such as civil rights or education

“Luci, it doesn’t matter what color you are. It doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is. If you don’t have an opportunity to take advantage of all the education you can, you’ll never be your best,” Johnson advised her.

Forever a teacher at heart, Johnson molded his daughters through teachable moments, presidential style.

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BarackObama, parenting

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Lesson #5

Provide plenty of love balanced by structure and discipline.

Barack Obama

(44th President, 2 daughters)

The quintessential modern day parent, President Obama takes an authoritative approach to raising his family. He’s calm, steady, nurturing, attentive, deliberate, loving and firm.

“We’re a strong believer in structure and rules, and unconditional love but being pretty firm, too,” explained Obama at a September 11, 2015, town hall meeting held with service members at Ft. Meade.

Obama points out that he and first mom Michelle implemented structure and discipline when their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, were very young, especially when it came to common issues all parents deal with—bedtime, watching TV and eating their vegetables.

“If you start early enough with high expectations, I think kids do well with that,” Obama advised. “Part of that involves loving those kids to death but also letting them know, ‘I’m your parent, I’m not your best friend. I’m not that interested in what your friends are doing. This is what you’re doing in our house. When you leave here, you’ll be able to make your own decisions, but we’re trying to prepare you so that you’ve got some sense when you get out of here.’”

Obama also stressed the importance of sharing family meals together as a way to connect.

“As much as possible, when we’re home, they have to sit down and eat dinner with us. I’m a big believer in not getting the TV trays out and watching the Kardashians,” said Obama. “You sit down, leave your cell phones somewhere else and we’ll have a conversation.”

Whether they’re leading the nation or leading their families, the U.S. Presidents, through both their strengths and their weakness, can teach us a few lessons about what it means to be a good parent.

Here’s How to Parent Like an Effective and Thoughtful Boss

Parents can use some of the same strategies utilized by successful bosses. They can inspire cooperation and success in any household (well, some at least).

Chances are we’ve all worked at a job at one point or another where we’ve had that boss.

The boss who makes going to work that much more painful because of the negative ways they manage their employees. This boss did little to inspire productivity or respect among employees due to negative and misguided approaches of management.

Would you be surprised to hear there’s a good chance that many parents are making the same mistakes our brutal boss did, when it comes to the mismanagement of our kids?

Luckily, many of us have also experienced the other side of the coin as well, a kickass boss or leader who inspired us to do our best work, motivating us to become better employees in the process.

It seems fitting that parents can take advantage of the same strategies utilized by successful bosses. These strategies are sure to inspire cooperation and success in any household (well, some at least).

1 | Don’t be a micromanager.

Everyone knows that a good boss gives employees space to bring their own unique approaches and talents to the table. As parents, we also need to be aware that the ways our kids do things might look different than the way we’d approach it.

Yes, in our opinion we can do it faster and better, however, our child is their own person and has a unique way of going about life. Let them see the world differently and approach things in their own unique way. This develops confidence and helps them to identify and build on their personal strengths.

2 | Provide plenty of positive feedback.

Think about the last time you received an authentic and thoughtful compliment from your employer. It was pretty motivating, right?

When parents harness the power of positive re-enforcement, it makes our kids want to do better and be better. The best praise is well-timed, authentic, and specific to something they did.

3 | Treat them with respect.

Take a moment to think about prior jobs you’ve held. Remember that jerk boss who belittled employees and talked to everyone else as though they were beneath him or her?

I’m guessing you didn’t feel very driven to accept feedback and follow through with their expectations, but instead you most likely developed feelings of resentment, resulting in the opposite effect. Your children are people too. If you have a vested interest in their cooperation, your communication should be grounded in kindness and respect.

4 | Provide plenty of breaks (i.e. playtime).

We know that employees who take breaks during the workday are more focused, productive and satisfied in their work.

If adults benefit from downtime, just think about the down time a child needs to be healthy and productive! Studies have shown time and time again that kids who are allowed more physical movement and unstructured playtime perform better at school and are happier and healthier children.

5 | Be a great communicator.

A primary skill of any successful boss is effective communication. How can an employee be expected to perform satisfactorily, if they have not had clear expectations laid out for them?

Kids’ brains are working hard all the time to learn about the world. The younger they are, the more reminders (in the form of loving guidance and visuals) children will need in order to teach family rules and expectations.

6 | Hold regular meetings.

Meetings in the workplace create feelings of cohesion and give everyone a chance to voice their opinion. Research has repeatedly shown when families engage in regular ‘meetings’ a number of valuable skills and outcomes are achieved, including an increased self-esteem, increased concept of how their actions affect others, and enhanced compromising skills.

In the end, it would seem as though managing employees and managing children isn’t really all that different (aside from the occasionally disheartening fact that you can’t actually fire your children and the whole lack-of-excrement-cleanup-in-the-workplace thing).

Overall, simply treat others the way you’d want to be treated with respect and positivity. If you can remember these simple tips, you’ll be parenting like a boss in no time.

If you’re a parent whose goal is to raise an awesome, emotionally healthy adult you can get a  free guide  ‘Become a More Confident Parent in Five Minutes – The 5 Best Things a Parent Could Ever Do For Their Child’ and find your tribe at

Dad Rage is My Dark Passenger

Mess with my kid or my parenting, and there’s a protective rage that bubbles up.

As I get older, I’m recognizing I carry around my very own dark passenger, much like in Dexter, the TV series. I used to joke that every time he mentioned this dark passenger (i.e. every episode) he was referring to a great big hemorrhoid on his arsehole causing him a huge amount of discomfort.

In reality, Dexter’s burden is a constant murderous impulse in his head to kill people. My own metaphorical hemorrhoid is my dad rage.

Dad rage is activated by strangers. Normally it’s a disapproving look that sets it off. I can always see them coming, too.

Picture this…

We’re on a beach. It’s raining a little, and it’s a cold, grey day. I’m carrying my son with one arm while he clings to me, naked, with his boy bits tea-bagging my chest. In my other hand I’m carrying a Kiddimoto balance bike and a soiled, shit-soaked nappy.

I don’t look like a guy you should trifle with as I walk to the nearest place of refuge: a warm café.

Like a scene from “Reservoir Dogs,” I notice a group of people walking towards us. Their faces show shock. Why is that peasant boy unclothed? How irresponsible of his parents!

Everything becomes slow motion at this point. I’m ready to push the dad rage button.

The group, transfixed, continues to stare, open-mouthed, at this disgusting apparition of a parent as we approach one another. Like two tribes of apes, I focus my eyes into the eyes of their alpha male, an old man, whose face shows the most open disdain. He is wearing a purple sailing jacket; no doubt triple-lined against the elements. He’s looking at the knobby spine of my boy while he hugs my neck.

My eyes dare him. Come on, say it. Say it. Ask me why this young human is exposed to light drizzle. Do it.

His companions sense danger, they understand the threat of my imminent fury and look away, but Purple Coat continues to stare, assessing his options as we approach medieval sword swinging distance. He flickers a barely perceptible glance at the metal object in my right hand to assess what he’s up against, and then back at my eyes.

We’re soon passing each other, so I slow my pace. I want him to say something, and I’m turning my head to the right to keep the eye contact unbroken. I’m desperate for things to kick off. I’ve already prepared my blood-curdling onslaught for him. My passive aggressive opening bullet is already in the chamber; I’m ready to surprise him with, “Are you wondering why he’s not wearing clothes?”

Brutal. This is being a dad. It’s like a primal, protective instinct. I may not be perfect, but if a stranger ever dares criticize my parenting style I am ready to destroy them.

But no, it’s not to be. His confidence falters, and he looks away as we pass each other. Just like that, all the tension in the air dissipates. Having established my dominance and protected my son and heir from the rival apes, I am free to swallow more coffee and keep him warm while more clothes are fetched from the car.

 This post originally appeared on the author’s blog, Dad’s Diary

How to Identify – and Own – Your Personal Brand of Parenting

Your personal brand of parenting showcases your special talents and is built around who you are, what you do, and what you believe.

A few years ago, my sister-in-law went through a pretty dramatic personal transformation.

She reignited her interest in fitness and athletics and along the way she lost weight and made a lot of new friends. I witnessed the transformation at a distance via Facebook updates and our twice annual family visits, so I didn’t fully understand the driver behind her big changes until she revealed them in a blog post.

After her first baby was born, she acted the way she thought a stay-at-home mom was supposed to act: crafting and making every minute about her kids. She said “yes” to things she thought she was supposed to do and lost herself along the way. In the end, she wasn’t happy, and she spent a long time figuring out how to fit her identity as a mom into the life she wanted to live. After I read her article, my first thought was, She finally found her personal brand.

Personal brand defined

Have you heard this term before? It’s trendy business lingo for what makes you stand out in a crowd. Your personal brand showcases your special talents and is built around who you are, what you do, and what you believe. It’s your unique combination of skills and personal qualities that bring value to what you do, and it’s used to keep you operating in a consistent and focused way to achieve your personal and professional goals.

Entrepreneurs and consultants use this as a way to promote themselves and explain in a shorthand what clients can expect when they partner with them. Job seekers use their personal brands to communicate their unique value to prospective employers. Before I left the corporate world, we were rolling out personal development training to a segment of employees to help them identify their brands as a lens through which they could look at their careers and their approach to solving business problems.

Adding “parent” to our personal brands

Old habits die hard, so even though I’ve been out of Human Resources and home with my kids for a few years, I couldn’t help but connect my sister-in-law’s self-realization with the concept of personal branding. Bringing this idea home into our family lives could be the answer to each of us finding peace with our individual style of parenting.

The good news is that you don’t have to feel completely lost in who you are to benefit from the process I’m about to share. I know this because I’m the exact opposite of my sister-in-law, and I still found value in doing this.

I’m more confident in my role as a mother than any role I’ve ever had. On the spectrum of mom guilt, I suffer from very little, and I don’t second-guess many of my choices as a parent. Of course, I worry about my kids, but I don’t worry whether I’m a good mom.

Still, when I challenged myself to come up with three adjectives to describe myself as a mom, I was stumped. My immediate thoughts went to how I wish I was behaving differently (i.e. magically turn into a morning person, so that I could accomplish household chores and workouts before the children wake up), and this isn’t a productive or, in my case, realistic way to think about parenting.

It’s not productive for a few reasons. First, focusing on our strengths makes us more successful than obsessing over our weaknesses. Second, defining our parenting brand, which is really just succinctly naming our strengths and how to use them to raise our tiny humans, serves as a compass to keep us on a win-win path that’s good for our families and good for ourselves. Naming what we want out of life makes us more likely to achieve it, and setting our own expectations, rather than adhering to what we think other people want, makes us more motivated to keep it up.

It’s for moms and dads

In truth, I first thought of this idea only as it relates to moms because we seem to experience a higher level of internal and external scrutiny for our parenting choices than dads do. Developing our unique mothering identities seemed like the best way to slough off for good the superficial labels we’re assigned. You know the labels I mean: soccer mom, helicopter mom, mean mom, crunchy mom, or hot mom (well, you can keep that last one, if you really want).

The more I thought about this, though, the more I realized it’s a worthy exercise for dads because we all keep a set of standards in our heads to which we measure ourselves. Naming our personal parenting brand gives us a chance to question whether the expectations we’ve defined are realistic and helpful.

If they’re not, it’s an opportunity to recalibrate the parenting bar we’ve set and focus on engaging with our families in a way that feels more authentic. This is what my sister-in-law did. She let go of the feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and fear she had about her role as a mom and embraced the identity that made sense for her — a mom who’d rather coach her kids’ soccer teams than volunteer in their classrooms. 

What’s more, going through this exercise together with our partners is a chance to revisit the expectations we’ve consciously or unconsciously set for one another. This is a chance to rebalance our joint approach to parenting and appreciate how our unique parenting brands compliment one another. And in case you’re getting any bright ideas, defining your brand as “I don’t change diapers” isn’t going to fly.

Abstract art of 3 diverse people

The four steps

We’ll walk through four steps to help you create your personal parenting brand and to figure out what to do with it once you have it. Take as much time as you need to complete these steps.

1 | Know thyself 

As a party trick, I used to do quick personality assessments on people based on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and there was never a lack of volunteers. That’s because it’s fun to learn about ourselves, and it’s even better when the observations are insightful and give us pause for thought.

Below are some free online assessment to try. Take as many as you want and, by all means, dig around their websites for more information on each. The research-backed assessments are widely used for team and personal development and each offers a more in-depth analysis for a fee, should you find one particularly useful (I have no financial connection to any of these).

The fluffy ones are just for fun. Pay attention to patterns in your results, even in the non-scientific ones. For example, loyalty and helpfulness show up for me in some fashion regardless of the specific test I take.

Do a gut check while reading the description of your results. Take note of where you find yourself nodding your head, thinking, How do they know me so well?

VIA Survey on Character Strengths: A 15-minute assessment ranking the strength of 24 character traits that we all possess to some degree, just in our own unique combination. (They also offer a youth survey for children ages 10-17.)

Connecting with Colors: A five-minute assessment assigning you a color that represents your dominant personality traits and communication style. (They also offer an assessment for teens and tweens.)

DISC Personality Testing: A 10-minute assessment which places your preferences for connecting, communicating, and interacting with other people into four quadrants.

What Kind of Parent Are You?: A 10-question quiz, just for fun by Quizony.

Which Iconic Sitcom Dad Are You?: An eight-question quiz, just for fun by BuzzFeed.

Which TV Mom Are You?: An 11-question quiz, just for fun by Zimbio.

2 | Do some “me-search”

I had a psychology professor in grad school who used to say that “research is me-search,” meaning people choose to study topics with which they have a personal connection. In our case, we are doing me-search in the truest sense of the made-up word.

We’ve got to investigate how other people perceive us. It’ll either reinforce our view of ourselves and get us closer to locking down our brand, or it’ll highlight a disconnect between how we think we’re behaving and the vibe we’re actually putting out there.

Ask your partner, close friends, and family the following questions. Don’t forget to ask your children, if they’re old enough (and willing to play along). This doesn’t have to feel like a serious endeavor. Everybody loves me-search, so make it a round table and take turns answering the questions for each other. Chat over a glass of wine (or two) with the adults. Talk at dinner with the kids, and younger kids can draw pictures. You can share the results from your self- assessments, too, to gauge their reactions and get the conversation started.

There are no wrong answers and the fact that you’re taking the time to figure out your personal parenting brand proves you’re already a good one, so listen with an open mind to what those closest to you have to say. Try these questions:

  • If you could use one word to describe me, what would it be?
  • When do I seem happiest as a parent?
  • What do I complain about the most when it comes to being a parent?
  • What’s the most fun thing we’ve done together as a family recently? What made it so fun?
  • What do you think I’m really good at?

3 | Name that brand

Now it’s time to make sense of all this information. Keep the feedback you heard from family and friends and your own self-assessment results in mind as you think about the following questions and create your personal parenting brand statement. While the feedback you received from others is important, the answers to these next questions are yours and yours alone, so be honest in your responses, even if it differs from what your partner or children said.

  • What’s important to me as an individual and a parent?
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I want for my child(ren) in their lives and what qualities do I have to help them achieve this?
  • What’s my favorite way to spend time with my child(ren)?
  • What’s an example of a time I’ve felt successful as a parent?
  • When do I feel most drained by my kid(s)?
  • What qualities do other people admire in me? What am I known for? 

Now, it’s time to put this all together into a few sentences that represent your personal way of being a parent. Pulling from the answers you’ve given above, describe yourself with two or three adjectives (I am…). Then, state your goal for how you want to raise your kids (I will…) and call out something you won’t do because it doesn’t align with how you parent (I don’t…). Here are a couple examples:

I am practical and nurturing with a twist of intrigue. I will help my kids become well-adjusted and independent adults by being honest and fair with them. I don’t sweat the small stuff. 

I am fun, hard working, and thoughtful. I will lead by example to show my kids that life is too short not to take chances. I don’t take life for granted.

4 | Getting and staying on brand

Congratulations! We’ve made it to the final step. It’s not easy distilling the complex realities of parenting into a few sentences. Well done. Now it’s time to think about what you’re currently doing with and for your kids and compare it to your brand statement.

  • What do I need to start doing to get on brand?
  • What do I need to stop doing?
  • What do I need to continue doing?

Your answers to the above questions will determine your next steps. If the bulk of your responses fell under the “continue” category, then you’re right on track and should share your brand statement with your family and close friends. They’ll most likely nod their heads and say, “Yep.” 

If your answers indicate that you have a gap between the way you’re parenting and the way you want to parent, then think about this:

What help do I need to make these changes? From whom?

It’s important to say here that therapists and life coaches are helpful resources in making any kind of personal change, but if you’re ready to tackle this yourself, then here are some considerations:

Bring your family along for the ride. Without their support and agreement, this can’t work. Really, it can’t, not for the whole family, and it’s critical that we remember any individual changes we make impact our families. Talk through what needs to be different and how you see it happening. The bigger the changes, the more time everyone will need to adjust to it, and you will have to be open to compromise.

This isn’t an excuse to stay in your comfort zone. Use your brand wisely to say no to things you can’t do and say yes to the things you could be doing instead. Don’t use it to avoid testing your limits or trying new things. It’s not a justification to underestimate yourself, so keep a growth mindset — the idea that everyone has a basic set of talents and aptitudes that can change and grow over time through practice and experience.

Your brand should be consistent in public and private. If it’s not, if you’re still acting differently at home and in public, then you’re still figuring out who you are and how to be honest with yourself and others about this. Stick with it. It’s worth it!

Last, but not least

Life is unpredictable and there will be moments when you need to adapt. Your personal parenting brand is your compass for how to live your life and raise your kids, but every once in a while you’ll take a detour for the good of the family, for some unavoidable reason or just because sometimes we have to do things in life that we don’t want to do. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed, and it doesn’t mean you can’t get back on track. It means you’re human, and life’s not perfect. Just remember that defining your personal parenting brand is your way of saying, this is who I am, this is how I parent, and I don’t have to apologize for it.

What No One Tells You About Becoming a Parent

A beautifully written essay about how faith and trust have shaped one mother’s parenting experience over the course of her child’s life.

Your eyes connect with your newborn’s for the first time, allowing you to see through the gateway into the pure innocent heart of your child.


On Loving and Losing My Stepdaughter

It was not my place to build the bridge between my husband and his daughter. But as the years have passed, I realize I can build my own.

She messages me in the middle of the day, “Hey.” And that’s it. 

I never know how to respond. But there are so many things I want to say.

“Hey Kate, sorry I suck.”

“Hey Kate, I know it doesn’t feel this way, but I think about you all the time.”

“Hey Kate, I know you have no reason to believe me, but I never forgot about you.”

“Hey Kate, I was so young when I met you. I didn’t know what to do.”

She doesn’t expect much from me, but I already know that no matter what I say, it won’t be enough.

I just turned 40. My hair has started its slow fade from a bold, shiny brown to a dull grey. My hands hurt after a busy day at work. I know I’m not old, but I’m not who I was when I met Kate.

The invincibility and the eternal hopefulness that once spilled into everything I did, and everyone I loved, has been trampled by reality. I tread much more lightly. I hesitate to make my once mighty, now mild, presence known when I enter a new space. Maybe the reason I tend to be more forgetful is because I have so many things to think about. I feel like memories are becoming ever more distant and details are harder to remember.

But I remember the day I met Kate.

Her father and I drove for days. We left the New Jersey shore on a humid summer morning and headed west. I planned a route to get us to Arkansas in less than a week if we didn’t stop too much.

The stops we made in the other states we crossed should have been more memorable. Nashville and Memphis are faint blurs in my mind, maybe because I’d just turned 21 and felt compelled to drink whenever I had the chance. Maybe because I was so focused on getting to Magnolia, Arkansas.

In my mind, this would be as simple as checking off an item on a to-do list. We were heading out to see Kate. Kate’s dad was divorced from her mom, and a year had passed since he’d last seen his little girl.

The child in me was excited to be instrumental in their reunion. Convinced that he would be lost and empty without his daughter, I took him by his willing hands and yanked him into my world of impulsivity. We dropped everything for this road trip.

We arrived to find two girls and a boy standing beside Kate’s mother, and she directed Kate to go greet her daddy. Kate meekly ran into her father’s arms and gave him a soft, quiet hug. She was giddy, but polite. And she called me ma’am.

We spent a week in Magnolia and we saw Kate each day. Her meek demeanor changed as she got more comfortable with us. She was easily excitable and very expressive. Her little heart was overflowing with love and she had plenty to go around. She boasted about having two daddies and said she loved them both over and over. Her stepfather smiled and shrugged at us whenever she pointed this out in front of him.

Kate was delighted in that classic little girl way, every gift we gave her, every meal we treated her to, and every ride she took in our car made her little heart soar with happiness. I insisted to her father that we stay awhile. A little girl needs her father. I know this from experience.

It’d been days into months into years since I’d last seen my own dad. I wanted to save this girl from that crooked balance of a life lived somewhere between great hope and deep disappointment. We settled just south of the Arkansas/Louisiana border in Shreveport.

My heart was in it for Kate, but I quickly started hating Louisiana. My inability to adapt to a new place blurred my understanding that time and patience were the only things that could make me more comfortable. Louisiana is starkly different from New Jersey, and while I could have lived with that, I didn’t want to be so far from my family and friends.

Maybe it was this that dampened my mission to save this girl from life without her father. Maybe I realized that I alone could not be the one to force devotion and duty for her upon anyone. Maybe it was because I grew tired of encouraging visits, gifts, and involvement. Maybe there were many reasons I took a step back and started thinking more about myself, and less about “saving” Kate.

Months went by and we didn’t see her anymore. We returned to New Jersey and had a child the following year. I thought about Kate, and how she would love to hold her baby brother. I had naive faith that this could happen. I was certain that their father would feel consumed by love for both of his children, and he’d want to see her again. An innate wholehearted desire to be a father to his children would usurp his shame and cowardice.

Our baby was so darling and beautiful. I assumed that every time he held our brand new son, his daughter crossed his mind. I believed his love for Kate, rekindled and inspired by the birth of our son, would make him shove hesitation aside and propel him past the fear he allowed to take control.

He would no longer be too scared to attempt resolve, and he would pick up the phone and call his ex-wife. They’d discuss how he’d re-enter his daughter’s life for good. At first I hinted at this fantasy of mine. Then, I asked him how he felt about taking such actions. Finally, I started resenting him, and wondering if he cared about her at all. He couldn’t articulate his feelings except to say that it was, “too much to deal with right now” because we had a new baby, and we were barely getting by.

Consequently, he fell behind on his child support. Partial payments weren’t enough to keep him out of court. First, it was garnished wages. Then, it was a levy on our joint bank account. We lost much needed tax return money.

Court orders arrive, promising arrest warrants if he failed to appear. His ex-wife sent letters through an attorney stating he’d no longer have to pay child support if he signed his paternal rights away, and allowed her stepfather to adopt her. My heart dropped. It seemed like impossible debt from which we’d never recover, but I was absolutely sure he’d never sign those papers.

I held our baby on my hip as I signed for the last certified letter and wondered what made him work so hard for our child, but not for Kate. I fought with him about her, but it didn’t make a difference. His whole family agreed with him, saying this was, “for the best.”

I thought about that little girl and how on earth I might explain this to her someday. It’d been two years since we’d spoken. She was almost nine years old when he made his decision. I sent her little gifts on Easter and Christmas that year. The following year, I asked him if we should send her anything. I don’t remember his answer, I only remember being sad and disappointed.

I didn’t know that this could actually happen – that a signature on paper could erase a child from our lives. She went from being a someday to being a never. I could list a million excuses to justify why I wasn’t brave enough to object, why I didn’t take it upon myself to earn and pay that child support and the arrears, why I didn’t understand his family supporting his decision to stop being her father, why I wanted to help but felt that I couldn’t.

None of that matters now.

I thought of Kate all the time. It would have been more practical to wish that she’d forgotten about us. But I always hoped she’d remember the short time we spent with her. Even after her father and I divorced, I still believed that she would come back into his life and she would meet our sons. I still believed she’d remember the trip, and the time we lived nearby. I even hoped that she’d remember a little bit about when she was small, her parents were still together, and she saw her father every day.

His dismissal of her existence seemed as easy as turning off a light, and walking out of a room. I spent our whole marriage doubting his seemingly steady devotion to our children. Had Kate never existed, I would’ve taken his actions at face value, feeling proud and confident about his love for our sons.

Instead, any minuscule sign of indifference toward their wellbeing made me fear that he could turn his paternal love for them off as easily as he turned it off for Kate. Was he acting? Was he going through the motions, feigning the love of a devoted father just for show? Could I trust the love he professed for me if it was so easy for him to forget about his little girl? Living in constant insecurity wore me down – we had so much conflict and strife. So, before our oldest son turned ten, I chose to leave the marriage.

Twelve years slid by. Twelve years of wondering how Kate was doing. Twelve years of seeing cute little toys and clothes and TV shows that I wondered if Kate would love. Twelve years of wondering what she looked like, where she was, what she loved, and whether or not she needed her father. Twelve years of expectation turning into diluted hope and wishful thinking that her father would say, “I want to make things right with my daughter.”

When Kate was almost twenty years old, I found her profile on Facebook. She was nothing like I remembered, of course. The last time I had a good look at her, she was a cherub-like child. I marveled at the young woman whose photo stopped my heart.

Kate and I exchanged messages for a bit and I gave her my number. I rehearsed every possible scenario of this phone call in my mind for twelve years. I was ready for anything. Whatever she wanted to know or hear or tell me, I was ready. I would tell. I would speak. I would listen.

Her soft voice and southern drawl made me smile. Ever since my first pregnancy, I’d dreamt of this day. Kate’s brothers are my sons. And if I knew nothing else about her, this fact was enough to keep my heart wide open with space reserved just for her.

She’d done nothing wrong. None of this was her fault. It didn’t matter that the rest of the family seemed content to pretend that she never existed. It didn’t matter that her father and I were divorced, it didn’t matter that I could not remember the last time he’d spoken of her. Kate wanted to talk to me.

I felt a surge of excitement, mixed up with relief. Kate was the elephant in the room for the duration of my marriage to her father. Even after our divorce, when he’d provide for, indulge, or champion one of my sons, my heart would whisper, “what about Kate?”

She was the person I had hoped for and wondered about for all this long time. Any girl with a slight resemblance made me imagine what she looked like. Whenever our caller ID showed a number we didn’t recognize, I wondered for a split second if it might be her.

To finally hear her voice made my distant, hopeless dream come true. Talking to Kate after all these years felt like receiving a precious gift that I felt unworthy to accept. After she told me all about her life, what she wanted to study in college, and where and how she lived for all these years, she had so many questions. 

I answered them all. I told her the truth.

I didn’t know why her father never called. I didn’t know exactly why her mother wanted her to be adopted by her step-father. I didn’t get into the details back then because at that time, I felt like it was not my place. I told her I didn’t understand any of it, that if it had been up to me, things would be different.

I hoped that she understood this – it was never up to me. I would have made her part of our family. I would have sent her photos and videos of her brothers. They would have called her and we would have sent her gifts every holiday and on her birthday. I told her all about her brothers and confessed that they didn’t know very much about her. After her father signed away his paternal rights, her name was rarely mentioned by anyone in the family, but I never forgot about her. 

Kate is now twenty six years old. She has her own life, her own aspirations, and her own struggles 1,400 miles away from me. I can’t make up for two decades of lost time and I don’t have all the answers about her father’s absence from her life, but I will always respond when she messages or calls. I’ll always let her know she is welcome, she is family, she is treasured, and she is important.

I don’t know if that’s good enough for Kate. She deserves so much more. I can’t fill the hole her father left in her heart. All I can do is promise that nothing she says or does will ever change how I feel about her. All I can do is make sure she knows that I’m here for her now.

“Hey, how’s life?” I message back.

It’s not enough.

What My Son May Never Know About Me

There’s a version of me my boy will never know. But this one, with graying hair and understanding is the one that comes from being his mother.

What my son would probably never see is the Type A woman craving perfection in everything.

Of course, she still insists that his standing lines are straight and his curves are nice and rounded, but the over-zealous madness is long gone. As much as she hates to admit it, she would readily settle for some scraggly lines too. 

What my son would probably never see is the career-focused woman, the one who used to skip family functions – marriages, birthdays and all big and small things in between – because her job came first. She still misses many events today, but not for the same reasons, and definitely not for the lack of trying.

What my son would probably never see is the resilient woman, the one who was stronger and tougher than many, and hardly ever shed a tear in public. She is up a few notches on the toughness quotient today, but she cries easily now too.

What my son would probably never see is the organized woman, the one who never missed a deadline or forgot to respond to an email or a message. Things get lost in the shuffle now, scattered among the many moving parts of a busy family. She tries hard to keep up, but she knows she has to let some of it go.

What my son would probably never see is the goal oriented woman, the one who at the end of the day would have her to do lists crossed off beyond recognition. Of course, she tries hard to tick off her lists today too, but making Lego houses and whipping up play-doh cakes takes precedence on most days.

What my son would probably never see is the woman who measured success in terms of CGPAs and performance reviews and salary hikes. She’ll still insist her son studies hard because there is no substitute for hard work, but she won’t bat an eyelid if he ditches his books in favor of a musical instrument, social work, or education. 

What my son would probably never see is the woman who was a people pleaser, who did a thousand things grudgingly because she didn’t want to disappoint. Today, she speaks her mind. Family first, then work. 

What my son would probably never see is the woman who was non-confrontational, who did not like picking fights, even to stand up for something she believed. Now that’s different. Say something unpalatable about her son, and you’ll never know someone more fierce or terrifying.

What my son would probably never see is the woman who comfortably fit into her size 2 clothes and still never felt skinny or beautiful enough. Now, catching her reflection in the mirror – which is so very rare – she doesn’t flinch even once.

What my son would probably never see is the woman I no longer am. She is gone and not missed much. 

What my son does see is a woman that I’m proud to have become a woman I’d be friends with – a bit more empathetic, a bit more understanding, a bit more patient, and a bit more loving. A woman who looks proudly at her graying hair and her curves and smiles because she is beautiful. 

3 Good Reasons Not Raise Your Kids the Way You Were Raised

For better or worse, the bones of our parenting scripts are written by our own parents. If that approach isn’t working for you, change is possible.

“Well, my parents spanked me and I turned out all right!”

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us would report that more often than not, the way we instinctually approach parenting situations with our children stems from the way we were parented ourselves.

This is not a shocking revelation. It makes good sense that our parenting is a learned behavior. After all, most of us spent 18+ years experiencing and observing the actions and approaches of our parents, and – like it or not – these are the reactions and responses called up by our subconscious when we’re caught in the heat of the moment with our own children.

For some parents, following the path on which they were raised may be working well (good for you, I assure you I am only a tiny bit envious), but the world has changed. Back in the day, survival, respect, and productivity were the main focus of raising kids, which made sense given the cultural and industrial climate of previous generations.

Today, parenting has been flipped on its head, which, in many ways, is a good thing. We now know that parenting based on our child’s unique temperament and emotional needs can enhance their social and emotional development immensely. Here’s some food for thought on why you may want to flip the parenting script a bit with your own kids.

Your child has special needs.

Whether the issue lies in the emotional, physical, or developmental realm for your child, having atypical development is going to make parenting more complex. It’s likely that due to the experiences your child has had, their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors will be more complex and therefore more challenging for you to address. As stressful as this will be at times, adapting your parenting to these needs can be a game changer for both your child and your family life in general.

Parents will likely need to work harder to understand the root cause of their children’s behaviors, in order to find the interventions that will be successful. Of course, there are basic truths that apply when handling difficult behaviors in all children, but children struggling socially, behaviorally, or academically will benefit from a more specialized approach than you likely had as a child.

Your go-to parenting approaches don’t work for your child.

Resist the urge to run and grab your pitchforks and hear me out. No, the world should not revolve around our children, and yes, our kids do need to adapt to the order and routine in the world around them, including adult authorities. However, this is a very different story than adapting our ways of disciplining (teaching) and reacting to them in day-to-day life.

Don’t get me wrong, this one is a painful point for many of us. We are parenting on our merry way with acceptable methods that seem to work well for other kids (maybe even your other kids), but it just feels like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. Your child’s behaviors aren’t changing, and in fact, may be getting worse. If this is happening, it’s likely that your well-meaning approach is not in tune with your child’s personality or temperament. 

As adults, we’re aware that we all have things to which we respond more positively. We know what types of communication get through to us better than others, or what learning styles we’re most receptive to. Our children are no different. Pretending these differences aren’t there doesn’t do them, or us, any favors. The more we can attune and adjust to our child’s needs, the higher the odds are that our parenting efforts will be fruitful.

The way you were parented doesn’t align with your own goals and philosophies.

Parenting nowadays is markedly different than in generations past. We have information, lots of information, and good stuff at that. Although we may take many of these resources for granted (and be overwhelmed by them at times), parents did not always have help or support in navigating the complicated and crazy-making world of parenting.

It only makes sense that we would take advantage of facts that resulted from actual science over previous decades, indicating which approaches yield the best and most positive lasting results with children. When we take time to explore what our parenting values are, we are making the choice to be intentional in the way we raise our kids. Some of these values will align with the way you were parented, and some will not, but figuring out the difference enables us to become conscious of the way we’re approaching things in the moment with our own children. 

The thing is, changing aspects of your parenting approach from the one you experienced is not about whether or not your parents got it right, it’s about whether or not you’re trying your best to get it right with your own unique child.

We know with great certainty that every child and every family is unique. Attuning and adjusting to these needs gives our parenting and our kids an extra edge towards healthy development in all aspects of life. Is it more work? Hell, yes. Is it worth it? Absolutely. We only have one shot at this parenting gig. None of us will do it perfectly, but I think we can all agree we’d like to look back and know that we never stopped giving it, and them, our best shot. 

Anne-Marie Slaughter: Society is Free-Riding Off the Efforts of Lead Parents

An interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter, who says that the work of lead parents should be valued as an incredibly important investment in human capital.

I sat with three friends at dinner not long ago and cried as one of my most vibrant, talented, loving friends described how “worth less” she feels as a stay-at-home mom.

Not worthless, but worth less.

As in, the work she’s doing (and yes, it is work) is not valued by society, her peers, and sometimes even her partner (who is a wonderful man). She’s unsure of what to say when people ask that awful question, “So, what do you do?” She feels judgement from the most unexpected places. Worst of all, she judges herself. 

I was an at-home parent for the first eight years of my kids’ lives. I’m five months into the transition back to paid work, and I now understand the corresponding challenges facing a lead parent who works outside of the home. We all have our struggles. I know that.

But our culture sees what I’m doing – going to work five days a week, receiving a regular paycheck – as something of value, and therefore (presumably) views me differently as a result.

During those eight years at home (which is an almost-hilarious misnomer), I frequently questioned my worth and constantly wondered if I was doing a “good enough” job raising our two kids. I knew intellectually that I needed to be able to answer that question for myself, from within, but practically speaking, I wanted someone else to say, “Hey, you’re really kicking ass at this job. And you know what – what you’re doing is super important.”

And then I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 story in The Atlantic titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”

Here was an incredibly accomplished woman who left a job at the State Department because her family needed her. And she was being judged for it. Slaughter continued to lay out the policy and cultural issues impacting the valuation of caregiving in her brilliant book, “Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family.”

When we first thought about producing this podcast, Jessica and I wrote one name on a piece of paper and said to each other, “Just imagine if we could talk to her.” That name was Anne-Marie Slaughter.

In this episode of “Where Was I…?” Ms. Slaughter reminds us that, even “from a (public) policy point of view, there really isn’t anything more important that we do” than caring for our children. “In a way,” she says, “society is free-riding off the efforts” of lead parents. “The very least we can do is provide the social respect and prestige.”